I am always trying to learn more about natural approaches to wellness. I enjoy the connection to the environment as well as the sense of accomplishment when I concoct a solution to an ailment in my own kitchen or garden. Lately, I’ve been dealing with some irksome pain, and trying to moderate my use of those harsh oral pharmaceuticals with all of their troubling side effects. I’ve learned that there are so many options available for topical pain relief. Arnica, aloe, menthol, eucalyptus, and willow bark, for example, are all wonderful additions to the herbal medicine chest, and very helpful. Last week, however, my doctor recommended trying a capsaicin rub for persistent neurological pain. Our discussion jogged a distant memory about neurotransmitter function, the role of the mysteriously-named Substance P in pain sensation, and the unusual effects of capsaicin on the sensory system.
A bowl of seriously hot peppers. These dried on the plant in the garden, and I picked them just before using. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)
In a nutshell, Substance P delivers the message to your central nervous system that you are in pain. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, blocks Substance P from being made. No messenger…no message delivered. The cause of the pain is not affected, just the feeling. So capsaicin acts as an analgesic, without the nasty side effects of a lot of the prescription drugs that are recommended for chronic pain. Capsaicin balms and rubs are available over-the-counter. But some have ingredients to which I am sensitive. And all of them are darn expensive.
Thank goodness I have a kitchen!
I used some tiny hot peppers and regular grapeseed oil to begin. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)
I didn’t bother to trim the peppers, because I planned on straining the extract. I just put them in a small saucepan, covered with the grapeseed oil, and snipped around with some scissors to increase exposure of seeds and ribs. I brought the whole thing to a simmer, and then turned down and left for a day with the lid on. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)
I was so excited by the aroma and color on the next morning that I forgot to take a picture. But I did pour the whole thing into a mesh strainer to catch the spent peppers. The extract could certainly be used at this point as a muscle rub (isn’t that easy?) but I know I tend to get a little clumsy when I am in pain. Oil would guarantee a mess, and probably some unintended discomfort if I splashed it anyplace sensitive. So I took another step.
Because I wanted to firm up the extract, I added 2 Tbl vegetable wax (the pellets in the photo) and a dollop of vegetable glycerin to maintain pliability (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)
This was stirred until it was completely melted. The color is just amazing. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)
Then, because I wanted to make sure that the balm was really, really powerful, I decided to add a few aggressive shakes of cayenne powder to the mix. I brought the pot to a simmer again, to make sure all the essential oils of the cayenne were released. Then I cooled just slightly to handle.
My super-duper straining apparatus. I wanted to make sure any cayenne particles were removed. So I used my jelly funnel and a muslin bag (real cheesecloth would work, too) The jar is the final vessel for the rub. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)
I had to work somewhat quickly, because the vegetable wax hardens as it cools. I’m sure there’s another use for the lees and the muslim bag, but, encrusted as it all was with spicy wax, I just tossed them into the compost.
The final product. Homemade capsaicin balm, no artificial ingredients and costing just pennies. It looks and smells delicious, is food-grade, and feels great on sore muscles. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)
I haven’t used enough of the homemade capsaicin balm to know if it will help me stay off some of the pharmeceuticals. But I can tell you that it definitely feels warm and wonderful directly on sore muscles!
Do you have any home remedies that you rely on? Feel free to share your recipes!